Skip to main content

About this Show

Book TV

Liel Leibovitz Education. (2011) Liel Leibovitz ('Fortunate Sons The 120 Chinese Boys That Came to America...')

NETWORK

DURATION
00:45:00

RATING

SCANNED IN
San Francisco, CA, USA

SOURCE
Comcast Cable

TUNER
Channel 100 (651 MHz)

VIDEO CODEC
mpeg2video

AUDIO CODEC
ac3

PIXEL WIDTH
704

PIXEL HEIGHT
480

TOPIC FREQUENCY

China 43, America 16, New Jersey 3, Shanghai 3, United States 3, San Fransisco 3, New York 3, Chicago 3, Navy 2, New York City 2, Connecticut 2, The Port 2, England 2, Chinese 1, Ajax 1, Twain 1, Expo 1, Chinese Navy 1, M. 1, Alexander Grahm 1,
Borrow a DVD
of this show
  CSPAN    Book TV    Liel Leibovitz  Education.  (2011) Liel Leibovitz  
   ('Fortunate Sons The 120 Chinese Boys That Came to America...')  

    March 6, 2011
    1:15 - 2:00am EST  

1:15am
states to learn the innovations of the west and returned to china with new ideas. this is about 35 minutes. >> before i start to tell you the story of these remarkable men, i'd like to tell of a short story of a far less remarkable man, myself. i was born in tel-aviv, israel. when i was 10 years old, my mother took me to spend the summer in a mysterious exotic far away land filled with rich and spean did treasure -- splendid treasures. i'm talking about, of course, new jersey. [laughter] when i got to new jersey, i attended a summer camp for a couple months, and i made of bunch of discoveries. some were small like the fact that jews previously believed to
1:16am
reside in fruit actually could come in a box, or there was a channel on tv that had nothing but car teens. other discoveries were significantly larger like baseball. even with my mind, i knew there was something american about baseball, a game which you could strike out 60% of the time and still go back at bat, still swing, and still win. i knew that i wanted to live in america. i went back home at the end of the summer, and 10 years later, moved to new york. a couple years ago, my wife and i, i was out of graduate school, and we decided to spend some time in china, and here we are in beijing in one of these smoggy hazy rainy afternoons,
1:17am
and nothing to do other than stare at the very small television with one channel. we see a picture of this boy, and the picture was very clearly taken in the 19th century. the boy was clearly chinese, and the building to which next he was standing was clearly yale university. i thought to myself, i had no idea there were chinese students in yale university nonetheless in the 19th servelg ri. i started researching the story and discovered these remarkable young men of the story i will soon tell you. they wrote a lot of letters, kept journals, and when i read their journals and letters, i couldn't help but feel an immediate sense of tremendous, tremendous empathy. like them, i was from a different culture and came here to attend school and i felt i had to work really, really hard
1:18am
to understand what the culture was about and fit in. no matter how hard i tried, there was always a little bit of foreignness. on that cheerful note -- [laughter] let me tell you the story. it begins in 1872 or a few years before in china, and china in the second half of the 19th century is a country teetering on the edge of the disaster. it controls a fifth of the world's people, and yet, it's a country that has not yet industrialized, and the population growth is extremely rapid. china reached 450 million people, and that's the lots mouths to feed. there are famines, rebellions, all kind of signs of corruption. seeing this, of course, the western powers never miss an opportunity.
1:19am
they say to themselves, well, here's an easy target, and they play a game called carving the chinese melon which means forcing china into concessions. china understands unless it does something really fast and really drastic, it's future is very bleak. the decision they come to is to send a group of young chinese boys to be educated in america. in this task, they had just the right men. his name was yung wing, grew up south of china in a western cemetery, and in 1850, the reverend was called back to the united states, and yung wing decided to go with him. he was the first chinese man to
1:20am
graduate from an american university. he's graduating in 1854, going back to china, brimming with the o dasty of hope. he's thinking this is our opportunity to remake the country. i have this amazing education at yale, and i just have to make sure more and more boys like myself have the same opportunity to have the same experience, but china is a very different place. he finds a small house in his native village, and across the street from that house, very odd things are happening. i told you before, china had 450 million people around that time, but i didn't say they were governed by a bureaucracy of slightly over 40,000 clerks. you think our system of government is broken, and since that's a small number to govern a large amount of people, government was prevalent, and
1:21am
each local governor had tremendous power, and the governor controlling the region with yung wing lived had a system of accusing you of a crime and condemned you to death. if you had the money to pay to prove yourself innocent, very well. if not, you were executed. across the street from wing's house were the execution grounds. across the street from his house, the bodies were piling high. yung wing shutters. he says something very radical needs to happen. he leaves the village, works hard, becomes a wealth merchant, and by the time the people in the forbidden city are ready to move, they understand that this guy, the first ever chinese man educated in america, he's their man. they come to him and say, okay, look, we don't want anything from the americans except for
1:22am
their technology. all we want is their science. that's all you have to make sure the boys learn. yung wing knows things are a little more complicated. he puts together the mission. he selected 120 boys, l youngest is 7, the oldest i believe is 13 and a half. they all board together in 1872 on the ship called the spirit of the king, and off they go to san fransisco. in san fransisco there were, of course, a lot of chinese people there at the time. these are the sun bitten hard working men who built the transcontinental railroad, but the boys don't care about that. they see wonders of likes which they had never seen before. they saw elevators, tram cars, electric bells, and most excitingly, they see trains which they called fire een gins. they are happy about this and ecstatic when they take a train
1:23am
ride across the united states to new england to their new homes. on the way, by the way, they are robbed by remanents of yes sigh james gang. they have these dimestore adventures, but nothing prepares them for the real adventure they are about to have which is when they begin their lives with their adopted families in new england. when they arrive there, they understand very quickly that life is going to be very strange here. they land, disembark, have these beautifully braided cues they had to wear and long flowing silk gowns as customary, and, of course, the american kids call them chinese girls which makes them very, very upset. when they left china and said good-bye to their fathers and
1:24am
mothers for 15 years, they made emotional gestures which are three bows. their mothers here hug and kiss them which mortifies them to no end. the culture seems very strange. this doesn't last long. within a few months, definitely within the year, these kids are thriving. they pick up horse back riding, rifle ri, start their own baseball team that they called the orientals, and they were good. they changed their names. his best friend becomes breezy jack. there's a cold fish charlie, ajax, and other schoolboy nicknames. the boys are doing very well here.
1:25am
they are thriving young men in a thriving young nation. four years after they arrive, they are invited to be sort of guests of honor at the first centennial celebration, a huge international expo in philadelphia. there they meet alexander grahm bell and his new invention, the telephone and are introduced to ketch-up. they meet mark twain. that time is not to last for long. a host of factors are in play to make sure the boys' adventure is cut short. in america in the west, anti-chinese sentiments is on the rise. the railroad is completed, no work, rampant unemployment, and, of course, the chinese are the
1:26am
first to feel these burdens. in 1882, the chinese exclusion act is passed kind of, you know, signifying this trend. in china to, the mandarins are growing suspicious of america, and by 1881, they say, party's over, we have to recall the boys back to china. mark twain writes letters on their behalves. mark twain writes new york and convinces former president at that point grant to write a letter on their behalf, and nothing helps. in 1881, they get back on the ship and sail back. now, they are not all together sad. it's true they left behind friend. most of them didn't get to graduate from college, but they tell themselves, you know what? this is not the end of the world. before we left, all these years ago when we were young children, we were promised we would be the new mandarins of china.
1:27am
we would be the new lords of the land, and they stand there on the deck imagining, you know, l welcoming flocks to green them at the port -- greet them at the port. they are greeted, of course, by policemen. they are arrested, accused of being spies. no, no, we're scholars. imagine how strange it seemed to the local police. scholars for them were men who were long robes and spoke perfect chinese. these boys could hardly speak chinese at all. they spoke a weird language and were dressed in western made suits. it took about a week and a half to clear this misunderstanding, and they were released from prison, but the troubles were far from over. instead of getting the jobs promised, they were sent to lowly jobs, cleaning decks on
1:28am
navy ships and thing of that nature. for ten years they had to work hard to prove their medal, to climb up sort of the mandarin ladder, and climb up they did. their self-confidence and resolve that they lerped on the baseball -- learned on the baseball fields and shooting grounds proved themselves very worthy. they became leaders in pretty much all the fields of modern china's growth. now, their path was not always easy. one young man who learned mining at yale university came to a small village south of china and did his job to dig mines and was assaulted by the local residents saying this is bad. you're upsetting the spirits of the ancestors. he said, no one at yale said anything about that. he brushed them off, and then he
1:29am
understood the concerns were serious. he had to do two things. first is invent machinery to mine at night which is very ingenious for the time still. the second is to learn how to sort of reconcile his desire for progress and work with the local traditions of the villages and towns he worked in, and all the boys by now, young men, in this mission had to do the same. the times they lived through reported in the third part of this book were absolutely fascinating times. china, through the boxer rebellion, through all kind of wars with, you know, among other people, japan, france, and other nations was a nation deeply, deeply changing, and by 1912, it was ready for the biggest change of all. milenia of imperial rule was
1:30am
coming to an end, and first ever chinese republic was being born. when that republic was born, these young men were china's founding fathers. the founder was a graduate, and his foreign minister was a graduate. the man who built railroads on the large scale across china was a graduate. the father of the commander of the chinese navy was a graduate and the founder of china's harvard was also a graduate. here's these young men talking in english and saying that's all right, old, boy, it'll be okay. this was the highlight of their lives. they were expecting that sooner or later china will thrive, and they were heart broken. china soon fell into a series of war lordism and after that,
1:31am
japanese invasion, after that, civil war, after that, communism. as these successful men turned old and frail, they watch as everything they worked to achieve was crumbing. here we are many, many decades later walking around china, reading about these boys, reading their writing, and the question we asked ourselves when we wrote this book is, is this is happy or a sad story? do the fortunate sons have a happy ending or a tragic one? the more we thought about it, the more we realized that although they died 70 or 80 years ago, the story of the fortunate sons is not yet over. the lesson that they teach us, the challenges that they had to overcome are the challenges that still, today, we have to
1:32am
overcome. these are the challenges of america and china having to learn how to speak to one another, not in the language of competition and conquest and mistrust, but in the language of cooperation and collaboration, a lesson, by the way, judging by president hu jintao's visit to the white house is being increasingly learned. this is the understanding that china will never become america or america become china, but each culture has to respect each other's cultures, each're's beliefs, each other's traditions, and work together to make sure that this story indeed has a happy ending, and on this, i hope truly happy note, i'd love to turn this into a conversation. [applause] thank you very much. [applause]
1:33am
please. yes, ma'am. >> do you speak chinese or were the journals in english or chinese? >> well, let me tell you a funny story. when we started work on this book, we learned that there were journals, and here we are, we're sitting in a coffee shop in new york city, and i say, you know, just our luck, here we have this great story, and these kids left behind these journals, and all the journals are buried in a basement in china and all in chinese, and we'll never be able to figure them out or find them. we start, you know, doing what people do nowadays which is of course googling the thing like crazy and discover the connecticut historical society had an exhibition on this subject a few years back. i called the library in connecticut, and i'm convinced
1:34am
that the journals are in china, and i introduce myself as a writer and i asked for the contact person in shanghai. she asked, what's there? i said the diaries. she's like i'm looking at them right now. they are an hour and a half a way. come look at them. we hop in the car, race over there, the diaries are all in english. the sort of, you know, a very interesting conflict here because i don't speak chinese. we had a translator who worked with us throughout the way, an excellent, excellent translator, but as it happens, these young boys for very large period of times, they didn't speak chinese. it was difficult for them. when they got back, it took them five years to regain the language, and when they spoke to each other which was frequent because they could, it was always in english. we made out okay.
1:35am
yes, ma'am? >> i'm megan, a chinese translator and writer. why did the students assimilate and thrive as easily as they did? thank you. >> that's an excellent question. one that really kept us occupied for much time. one explanation is because they are boys. they were very young when they came here, and they never really, you know, had a chance to grow in the chinese system. most of them never atepidded anything beyond -- attended the rudimentary level of chinese education. this culture is what they need. the second explanation that is more met metaphysical is that they were trained -- there's a famous poem that says a young boy who wants to be someone
1:36am
turns away from the window, sits down, and reads, and here they come to america where a young boy who wants to be someone gets on the baseball field and plays ball, rides a horse, takes a gun and shoots, dances with girls, is allowed to look his elders in the eyes. this is a revelation for them. they were extremely, extremely happy with it. the third thing i say is they came here at a time when the country was really, really, really thriving. you know, on the way on the transcontinental railroad, they could see things like the automated reaper and the plow, and there's an energy they felt acutely that invigorated them and made them want to learn and excel. we had the good fortune of getting their school transcripts. within two years, these kids were completely top of their class. >> how were they chosen?
1:37am
how were the children chosen to come here? >> how were they chosen? initially, yung wing who put the mission together thought this was the offer of a lifetime, a 15 year all expenses paid tour to the united states. he soon learned that wasn't the case. there was extreme, extreme prejudice in china because they had just seen conquerors and abusers, so people distributed stories that american christians worshiped a god so evil they had to be killed because he was so wicked. when yung wing offered this deal to families of china, most of them said, no thank you. we're passing on this. in addition to that, it's a very hard deal for a chinese boy to accept because, you know, confucianism is about respecting elders and traditions.
1:38am
to tell a boy you're leaving your parents for 15 years, that's hard for anyone. yung wing went back to his own village. many of the boys chosen were his family members or sons of friends and put together, he hoped really to get the best of the best, but he just kind of selected at random. the empire had rules. for example, if you were chosen and you were ungracefully named, they changed your name to sound better to american ears, but in the end, they got a very good group of people. yes, sir? >> i really love the book. >> thank you. >> upon reading it, i thought is there a statue to yung wing and he was so amazing when he slapped the scottish person in shanghai, and the stories you told were so amazing.
1:39am
there were a couple boys who decided not to go back to china and converted to christianity and stayed in america. did you have a chance to interview their descendents and are they still familiar with their great great grandfathers? >> there is a statue to yung wing. as it happens, it's right here in the city. there's a yung wing school here. in southern china, the little village that he grew up in was sort of raised and made way to the tiny town now of 8 million people. there are many, many statues and schools named after him as well as many other graduates of this mission. in china, in is a well-known story and a very optimistic one of how you with really work together and bridge the cultural gaps. as for the people who stayed behind, there were a couple of
1:40am
these boys who thought, you know, this here is just too good to pass on. a couple of them hopped the train before they were heading to san fransisco, converted to christianity, and never went back. their fates are not happy. they learned that when they actually became american citizens as opposed to members of these international exchange good will delegations, racism really hit them hard. their ends were not well met, but as for your other question about the students who the generations, the next generation, we have spoken to several of the young men's descendents, and it's amazing to learn how many of them live here or in canada, and how many of them of those who live in china followed in the footsteps of their fathers and attended yale,
1:41am
m.. -- mit. it was a heart felt discovery forus. yes, ma'am? >> [inaudible] >> they had a hard time with their children and their children's children. >> the ones who came here had the misfortune. i'll repeat the question. the ones who decided to stay had a hard time, but their children went to yale and harvard. the ones who came here unfortunately died very young. one died as a child a couple months after he decided to stay. he was adopted by this beautiful family in connecticut who lost a son in the civil war, and saw this young man named tan as their second gift from god. he died of flu i believe a few
1:42am
months after he hopped that train. another one was murdered in new york city. they are really, really bad fates, but those who came back, many of them sent their children to be educated in america, and even if these children came back to china, a lot of third and fourth generations live here to this day. any other questions? yes? >> yeah, hi. >> hello, sorry. >> my great grandfather is in your book. >> oh, my. [laughter] >> i don't speak chinese, and my last name is chang, but you have it spelled two ways. [laughter] i knew him as great grandpa thai, but you have coa, but it's
1:43am
spelled differently in the index. >> well, there's a noble translation in here. we had a tremendously difficult time. first of all, i want to talk to you after this and hear more about this remarkable man that's featured in the book. we had a very difficult time with the translations because every name we came across was spelled two or three different ways according to different translations. we followed the advice of our translator and took the spelling that would have been most well-known in public records and documents in this country or in china, and so i think we went with ci, but stick around, i want to hear more. >> i'm here on a mission from my father who is in new jersey. he read the book, and he's
1:44am
wondering if there's going to be a film adaptation? [laughter] >> tell me father i'm hopeful. i'm thrilled he liked this book. it's making me blush. it's fantastic. thank you. wow. i believe there's one more question. ma'am? >> i was wondering how well this story is known in china? are they still talking about it, and also a question is that some of the boys who went over to the u.s., to america, were really young. they were as young as 6 or 10 years old. how did they survive this whole adaptation to america? >> well, i'll answer the first question briefly. they are very well-known in
1:45am
china because first of all, out of the 120, a good 40-45 are tremendously impressive men. the engineer, the prime minister, one was a man who convinced britain to recede, but they are men of many accomplishments. to the other question, how did they survive this strenuous journey to america. we're talking about new england in the 19th century, good puritan tradition. you sat around the dinner table, you want to eat, you have to call what you want to eat in english, if you don't know bread, potatoes, and meat, you're not getting anything. other than that, they learned very fast. >> by the time they got back to china, they were still quite young, like 22 years old, and could they make a difference in china? >> well, by the time they got to
1:46am
china, they were young. they were sent, again, to have all these medial tasks. it took ten years to come into their own as men, but when they did, boy, did they. they made a difference because they really represented in whatever realm of life they were, be it mining, engineering, telecommunications, intelligence, navy, army, they brought a self-confident attitude that made a great, great change which is the attitude i see everywhere today in modern china with a lot of respect for the tradition with doing things their own way and understanding here in lies progress. >> well, some of it is to the european migration to america around the turn of the century when all of eastern europe decided that they wouldn't stay
1:47am
there anymore, and they would come to this country, and they also have to felt and the chie nays have to be -- chinese children have to be educated, and it's always through education that you get somewhere. >> absolutely. >> yeah, so i'm not surprised that the chinese, i mean, i'm not surprised at all because this has always. the life blood of america. the immigrants who came and to whom it was very important to get some place. >> and now you know it's the life blood of china too. i have a good fortune of being associated with new york university are are completing a joint partnership with shanghai. we had a lovely delegation of people here and had a culture exchange, and this i truly
1:48am
believe unlikely to me and sort of optimism, i really believe this is the future. i want to thank very much for coming. it's been a pleasure. thank you. [applause] >> you're watching booktv on c-span2. 48 hours of nonfiction authors and books every weekend. >> about five years ago, i got a letter from a teacher that i had in 8th grade in chicago. she had saved one of my papers that i had written about thanksgiving. >> she must have liked that. >> she said i kept this all these years because it was one the best papers i got from a student, and i read that paper, and i was going, hey, i was
1:49am
really good. >> what was it about? >> thanksgiving and what it meant to me. i don't know, but it was good. >> is it on your refrigerator now in your house? >> it's in some box with my memorabilia, but it was remarkable she saved that. apparently, i did write well, and i had an english teacher who told me to join the high school newspaper, and i had never thought of writing. i actually liked acting. i was in a lot of plays and things like that which i'm very grateful i was now because that helped me as a television broadcaster. >> with your voice. >> learning how to use and project your voice and not being afraid to get in front of people and speak, so i joined the newspaper, and they gave me a column called division news. they were not homerooms then,
1:50am
but divisions. my job was to go around to all the homerooms and interview people about what was going on with the people in the homeroom. >> that sounds like a gossip column. >> who won spelling bees and the science fair, but i enjoyed so much having access, that me, carole could go around the rooms and talk to students and teachers and know things before anybody else knew them and write them up and see my by line. oh, my goodness. it's kind of an experience. >> yes, indeed. so you make the decision that this is going to be your life. >> i loved it. i was like i love this. okay. the attention, the access, people coming up to me wanting
1:51am
to tell me information, and i was a curious child who read a lot. i guess i was pretty nerdy, but it all worked, the reading, the writing, the access and being able to ask questions and get answers was just wonderful, and i said, this is what i want to do, but did i know anybody black who was a reporter? did i know anybody white woman who was a reporter? did i know any woman who was a reporter? all i knew was louis lane from superman. i knew all kinds of great newspapers in chicago at the time, and my parents were avid newspaper readers, and so seeing the bylines # in --
1:52am
in the newspapers there and people covered things about fires and politics, and i just decided i just had to do that. >> you go and your tell your parents this is what you've decided, you want a career as a journalist. what do they say? >> silly girl, silly little girl. you can't be a journalist. women don't do that, and certainly black women don't do that. you need to go become a teacher and so you can take care of yourself. you can always get a teaching job, but we don't want to spend tuition, and it was a struggle for them to get my tuition together for me, and it was like you need to be a teacher or a nurse or a social worker. that's just about all the things young women in the early 60s would aspire to, and i was just
1:53am
no, i don't want to do that. i really want to do this, so there were a lot of fights in my household and a lot of slamming of my door and putting my foot down and, again, this was the first no, no, you can't do this. i was just determined, and finally they saw i was not going to be happy, a good person to live with unless i got this opportunity, so they supported me, and i thank god for having supportive parents who didn't go to college, but made sure me and my sister did. >> at some point you hear a second no, r the second of many knows when you apply to school, north western. >> guest: north western university outside of chicago, and that's why i wanted to go because at the time it was one the best journalism schools in the country, and i had great
1:54am
grades. as i told you, i was in all kinds of activities and things, and i had b-plus, a-minus average from high school, and i applied to north western, and little did i know there was a quo that system going on. they acknowledged it now that there was a quo that system -- quota system on the number of jews and blacks going to the schools. i go to the admissions counselor, and he said i was wasting my time and i needed to be an english teacher because i never would get a job at the chicago tribune. i knew what was going to happen, and then i got the letter. we regret to inform you. >> host: it's a thin envelope. >> guest: no firms to fill out, just a little tiny letter,
1:55am
and i was like, and my parents, thank, god, said we told you so, so i said i'm applying somewhere else. >> host: you do that and graduate tbr where in what year? >> guest: university of michigan, and why do you want the year? >> host: never mind. >> guest: 1962. >> host: and you did well in school. >> guest: i did well in school again, and there were 60 graduates in my class from journalism, and everyone had a job at graduation time except me. >> host: the little hen didn't have a job again. >> guest: i worked at the public library where i worked every summer from the time i was 15 years old. here i am with a degree, and i'm going back to my high school job. my college summer job, and i was
1:56am
disappointed, but i just felt something's going to happen, something's going to happen, and i got this call from the dean of the school saying that he lined up an intership for me. it didn't look good for the university to have one black student who did not have a job, so he worked very hard to make that happen, and that's how i ended up there. >> you can watch this and other programs online at booktv.org. on the go? afterwords is available via podcast through itunes. click podcast on the upper left side of the page, select which podcast you'd like to down load and listen to after words while you travel. >> the author of highest duty.
1:57am
captain sullenberger, what's the highest duty? >> take care of each other, but my book is more than the event of january 15, 2009 in the hudson river landing. i had to have an insightful survey of my life, all the important events and the people with me that day and helped me take in the lifetime of experiences along with my crew, and so finding one's passion early in life, being diligent or working hard to become expert at it leads to a purposeful life full of passion, and that's what helped me at the river. >> what led you writing the book? was it landing in the hudson river? >> absolutely, that was a big part of it. i think much of the book was already in me, my life story, but that was the impetus story
1:58am
that needed to be told that i wanted to tell through my eyes. >> half of the world has seen the video of that landing and everybody exiting the plane at this point. that was your thought on impact? >> well, i'll tell you a quick story about what happened immediately after the landing. you see, jeffrey scott, first officer that day, and i had never landed an airliner in a river before, so we didn't know what to expect, and i didn't know how successful i would be in making the touch down gentle enough to keep the airplane back. i was confident i could, but i didn't know how hard it would be because there was no thrust. after we landed, stopped in the water, before i opened the cockpit door and commanded the evacuation, we turned to each other and both said, well, that wasn't as bad as i thought. that's the first reaction we
1:59am
had. >> what do airlines look for in airline pilots that they seem to have this calmness? >> well, what we expected that day, forced on ourselves was a practiced call professionals learn. it's not about calm, but a discipline to focus on the task at hand even though your body's normal human reaction is to respond with a spike in blood pressure and in pulse and a narrowing of your perceptions because of the intense life threatening stress. we did our job to spite it. >> in your view as a retired air captain,ing is the airline industry secure in the united states? >> you mean in terms of our security from threats? >> in anyway. >> or financially? >> no, more in threats, air af